A Few Thoughts About Monologues

Acting – creating an active thought process that ignites an emotion that provokes a behavior. John Howard Swain

imagesMonologues – can make or break your career.

Nothing can infuriate or frustrate an actor more than the audition process. And just so you know, directors and casting people aren’t too fond of it either. The problem is in six hundred years of auditioning no one has thought of a better way. So, we’re stuck with this very imperfect way of “showing” the people who could hire us what we can do.

Perhaps the best of the “bad” ways to audition is with a monologue.

But even there most actors fall short. Why? Because we don’t take advantage of the information we have. Before we get into specifics let’s be clear about what a monologue isn’t. A monologue isn’t a soliloquy. A soliloquy is where the actor expresses his innermost thoughts out loud to himself. Shakespeare loves these. Monologues however, are meant to be delivered to another person. Or to a group of people. Let’s begin.

WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO? This is the very first thing you need to figure out if you want to deliver a successful monologue. What person, or group of people, are you going to address?

WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM THE PERSON? After you know who you’re talking to, you must decide what your main objective is in speaking to that person? Do you want to win him over? Do you want her sympathy? Do you want to exact revenge? Know what you want from the person you’re talking to and use the words of the monologue to try to accomplish that.

WHY NOW? Why are you saying what you’re saying now? Did they say something you felt warranted a response? Did they take an action—slap you, spill a drink on your date’s dress—that provoked you to speak?

MOMENT BEFORE. If they said something, what was it? We’ve talked about the Moment Before many times in this blog. It’s important because it initiates the action. Something needs to spark you, give you the impetus to begin your monologue. Either something said or an action taken.

WHAT ELSE ARE THEY SAYING TO YOU? The ideal way to perform a monologue is to turn it into a dialogue. Not only will it be easier to perform, it will also be easier to memorize. Of course, the other person doesn’t have any “real” dialogue. However, if you make up some lines for them to say it will keep you engaged as the monologue continues. In every monologue, as in every scene, you are either getting closer to what you want or slipping further away. If you’re not getting what you want, create some imaginary dialogue for the other character that prompts you to fight harder to achieve your goal. Example: if you’re asking a girl for a date and you really want to go out with her but she keeps saying “No,” you’re slipping further away from getting what you want.

That distancing and the fear of her not going out with you forces you to come up with another plan, other ways to ask her out.  So, while the script may contain language that indicates you found another way to pursue your goal, giving her an imaginary line or two will help you make the transition from one tact to another.

FIGURE OUT WHAT YOUR STATUS IS. Who has the upper hand? Where does the power lay—with you or the other person? Is she your boss? Are you the king? Knowing your status helps you create the reality of the piece.

Don’t forget, drama and comedy thrive on conflict and die on agreement. Even in a monologue you are either in the power position or you’re not. Knowing where you stand will help you deliver the goods.

ARE YOU RIGHT? Regardless of your status, know that you’re right. This will help create competition. Competition is good, desired in fact.

ARE THEY RIGHT? Conversely this is also good. The more right they are the harder you’ll have to fight to get what you want. With whatever dialogue you create for them imaging them delivering it as if they were right.

IS THE OTHER PERSON PREVENTING YOU FROM GETTING WHAT YOU WANT? This is another aspect of the inherent competition . You want something; they want something else. Use this conflict to energize your work.

If you put all of these elements into play you will wind up with a terrific monologue, one guaranteed to impress the people who can hire you.

Good luck out there!!

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2 Responses to A Few Thoughts About Monologues

  1. Fab! Stella would hug you!

    From: Breakthrough Acting Reply-To: Breakthrough Acting Date: Monday, February 11, 2013 10:22 AM To: bobbie horowitz Subject: [New post] A Few Thoughts About Monologues

    WordPress.com wordp999 posted: “Acting creating an active thought process that ignites an emotion that provokes a behavior. John Howard Swain Monologues – can make or break your career. Nothing can infuriate or frustrate an actor more than the audition process. And just so you k”

  2. Kate Whitney says:

    Terrific! These “questions to ask” about the monologue give answers to all the problems
    monologues present! Concise and brilliant! Thank you again, Mr. Swain!

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